If the first week of the baseball season is any indication of things to come, the Houston Astros will be one of the weakest teams in the major leagues this 2009 season. And ace pitcher Roy Oswalt could very well be the first 20-game loser in Astros’ franchise history.
We are well aware that the first week doesn’t make a season, but there certainly were some tendencies displayed during that opening week that were very disturbing.

Take Oswalt for instance. He was the Opening Day starter last Monday at Minute Maid Park and he toiled for seven innings, giving up a couple of home runs to the Chicago Cubs. But in those innings in which Oswalt was in the game, his teammates produced no runs to support their No. 1 hurler. Houston eventually lost 4-2 and Oswalt was charged with the mound loss.

Five days later on Saturday afternoon Oswalt’s turn came up again in the Astros’ starting pitching rotation, this time on the road to those always-tough St. Louis Cardinals. Again Roy pitched his butt off, but was victimized by Astros-killer Albert Pujols, who pounded a grand-slam home run to break a tight pitcher’s duel wide open.
And for the second straight time, Oswalt got zero runs support from his teammates. He left the game with Houston trailing 6-0 after six innings, giving up nine hits.

His two replacement relievers each pitched an inning with one surrendering four runs on seven hits including a three-run homer by Pujols and the other reliever was touched for three hits and the Cardinals’ final run. Houston lost 11-2 and never was in the game.
This Korner has arrived at the conclusion that it’s not all Oswalt’s fault. In fact, he shouldn’t get much of the blame at all for those two losses last week. The most difficult task for a starting pitcher at any level is to work for a team that produces zero runs every inning.
Despite the fact that year-in and year-out Oswalt gets fewer runs from his teammates than a majority of the major league’s starting pitchers, Oswalt has the ninth best winning percentage in major league history for pitchers with 100 or more wins. His winning percentage is .675 and dropping fast.

In this Korner’s opinion Houston’s pitching staff has only two reliable starters–  Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez—with the other three—Brian Moehler, Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz—coming off the scrap heap after either being ineffective or out of baseball because of a serious arm injury.

It’s hard to imagine how manager Cecil Cooper can be so upbeat about a team that began the spring exhibition season losing 14 of their first 16 games and then after the bell rings and the games count, they go 1-5.

And it’s not that the batting averages are anemic, it’s simply the run production that’s pathetic. In those first six games the Astros scored a total of 16 runs.  The foursome of Geoff Blum, Carlos Lee, Hunter Pence and Ivan Rodriguez had a combined batting average of .378 before going 1-for-12 Sunday.  Kaz Matsui and Michael Bourn have hit safely in the first six games.

Wandy Rodriguez pitched a fine ball game Sunday afternoon in St. Louis, giving up only three runs. But until the ninth inning, the Astros couldn’t even get a base runner to second base.

Besides sweeping the three-game series from the Astros for the first time since July 15-17, 2005, St. Louis also outscored Houston 19-5 in the three games, escalating the Astros’ losing streak to four in a row.

And in the finale of the three game series at home against Chicago Wednesday, the one game the Astros broke loose with the long ball and hit five home runs, they were all solo shots that came after the Cubs had scored 10 of their 11 runs in the first five innings. Houston managed to lose that rubber game of the series 11-6.

The Astros moved on to Pittsburgh Monday for a three-game series in hopes of at least doubling their victory total through Sunday and will return to Minute Maid Park Friday to begin a long 10-game home stand against Cincinnati (4 games), the LA Dodgers (3 games) and Milwaukee (3 games).

What we’ve seen so far this season is over-anxious hitters with men on base that resulted in the hitters swinging at bad pitches, starting pitchers who are giving up way too many runs via the long ball and an overall weaker team than the Houston Astros have fielded in the last decade.

KWICKIES… The National Basketball Association’s lengthy playoffs will begin this weekend with all three Texas teams—the Houston Rockets, San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks–plus New Orleans qualifying in the Western Conference.

After beating Sam Houston State handily 13-6 in Thursday’s opener of the three-game series in Huntsville, the Lamar Cardinal baseball team took it on the chin in the final two games, getting pounded 12-5 Friday and losing 8-5 Saturday. The Cards drop to 10-8 in the Southland Conference and 23-13 overall.

District track meets are going full-blast this week with District 21-3A running field events and running prelims Tuesday at Silsbee with the finals set for Thursday at 5 p.m., also in Silsbee. Expected winners moving on to the boys’ Class 3A regional meet are Bridge City’s Tim Cude in the 3,200 meter run, West Orange-Stark’s Trey Franks in the 100 and 200-meter dashes, Mustangs Phillip Jones in the 110 and 300-meter hurdles and James Haynes in the triple jump and the WO-S 800-meter relay team. The District 20-4A finals are set for 5 p.m. Thursday at West Brook after the field events and running prelims took place Monday. The District 23-2A field events and running prelims were held Tuesday with the finals set for 5 p.m. Thursday at East Chambers High school in Winnie with Deweyville’s Joe Dooley heavily favored to win his specialties, the 800 and 1,600-meter runs. 

When Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller was unable to grip his curveball on a 40-degree day at Chicago’s Comiskey Park on April 16, 1940, the fire-balling right-hander relied “almost exclusively” on his fastball and pitched the only opening day no-hitter, out-dueling the White Sox Eddie Smith, 1-0.

JUST BETWEEN US…Fortunately for golf fans living in our neighborhood of Orange, when the power went off AFTER the rain and wind storms had passed our area Sunday afternoon, the exciting heads-up duel between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in the final round of the 2009 Masters Tournament was over and it was obvious neither of those popular golfers was going to win the green jacket this year. When the power returned after an outage of a bit less than an hour, the Masters was just completing the 72nd hole and resulted in a three-way tie between eventual playoff winner Angel Cabrera of Argentina, third-round co-leader Kenny Perry, who could have won the whole she-bang if it weren’t for his two bogeys on the final two holes Sunday, and first and second-round leader Chad Campbell.